Outcry over Constantia Village tree pruning

These indigenous karee trees in the western end of Constantia Village car park were given a full top cut by the mall’s pruning contractor.

A plea has gone out from TreeKeepers – a tree-conservancy group – to stop the “horrendous mutilation” of indigenous trees by Constantia Village.

Meanwhile, Constantia Residents’ and Ratepayers’ Association (CRRA) has been working with mall management since August last year to address what it believes is excessive pruning by the mall’s contractor.

The rows of trees in the Constantia Village car park lot are frequently pruned to provide a clear line of sight for security cameras and staff, according to mall management.

Clare Burgess, a landscape architect and chairwoman of TreeKeepers Cape Town, says no one with an understanding of the value of trees and plants would agree to hack the trees in this way.

However, Clare Burgess, a landscape architect and chairwoman of TreeKeepers Cape Town, has complained to Constantia Village about what she feels is excessive pruning. The security argument is “totally incomprehensible”, she says because the constant presence of parking attendants, trolley pushers and other people in the area should keep crime to a minimum.

“And if the trees were allowed to grow to a decent size and provide the much-needed shelter and shade that they should be giving to the users, then there would be clear views under the canopies, and people could see exactly what is going on in and around their cars,” she said.

“Why does Constantia shopping mall continue to mutilate trees when they must surely get ongoing complaints from their patrons about this horribly destructive process?”

Constantia Village says the trees in its parking lot need to be pruned to give security cameras and staff a clear line of sight.

Ms Burgess offered to put the mall in touch with a professional tree-care specialist.

“No one with an understanding of the value of trees and plants would agree to hack the trees in this way,” she said.

Ward councillor Liz Brunette said residents had often complained to her over the years that the trees were being cut back too much.

According to Marian Nieuwoudt, mayoral committee member for spatial planning and environment, aerial-photography records show the trees were planted in 1984 when the mall was built.

Ms Brunette said the CRRA committee had contacted mall management last year to get them to agree to let the trees grow taller and fuller to offer more shade for cars.

CRRA committee member and ecologist Dr Clive McDowell said the “continuous lopping” of any forms of growth gave the indigenous karee and other species of trees in the car park the appearance of “stressed pseudo-bonsai lollipops”.

“They provide negligible shade for cars, and are a token contribution to an aesthetically pleasing local environment,” he said.

Dr McDowell said Deidre Paul-Diemont, from Growthpoint Properties, which owns Constantia Village, had told him in August last year that pruning was for security purposes. He had then reviewed camera coverage with the centre’s security manager to see the impact of tree shape on lines of sight. Constantia Village had then agreed to narrow and raise the crowns of 12 trial trees.

“The security effect was considered sufficient not to carry out further lopping haircuts,” said Dr McDowell.

Dr McDowell, assisted by Chikumbuza Sawezi, then pruned some two-thirds of the trees around the Old Village, at the junction of Spaanschemat and Constantia Main roads, including white stinkwoods, two species of wild fig and many water bessies.

The pruning programme, he said, had suffered a “slight drawback” when a Constantia Village contractor had given a full top cut to about a dozen trees in the western end of the car park, following an apparent “security scare”.

Dr McDowell said he could have achieved the same result with less damage. “Ongoing topping of this type tends to end in premature tree mortality,” he said.

Ms Paul-Diemont said the pruning of almost all trees at the mall had been done with the consultation of a “local expert” and the CRRA.

“We have an obligation to ensure high visibility within our parking area, both by our on-site staff and our security cameras. This, in effect, is to strive to ensure the utmost safety of our customers and their vehicles. Customer safety remains our top priority,” she said.